the late 1990s videotape was familiar to most television viewers
in developed countries. The videocassette was a central product
throughout the home video market and in various formats was widely
used as a consumer item for home recording. Despite these widespread
and common uses, however, videotape is of relatively recent origin.
Its immediate antecedent is, of course, audiotape.
processes of recording audiotape and videotape work on the same
principle. An audio or video recording head is a small electromagnet
containing two coils of wires separated by a gap. An electrical
current passing through the wires causes a magnetic charge to cross
the gap. When tape, coated with metal particles, passes through
the gap patterns are set on the material. On audiotape, each syllable,
musical note, or sneeze sets down its own distinct pattern. For
videotape, which carries several hundred times as much information
as audiotape, each image has its own pattern.
the late 1940s and early 1950s the explosive growth of television
created an enormous demand for a way to record programs. Until links
could be established through television lines or microwave broadcast
relay, a blurry kinescope was the only means by which a network
program could be recorded and replayed on different local television
stations. As a result, "television" programs were unstable, ephemeral
events. Once transmitted electronically they were, for the most
part, lost in time and space, unavailable for repeated use as either
aesthetic, informational, or economic artifacts.
In 1951, engineers at Bing Crosby Enterprises demonstrated a black-and-white
videotape recorder that used one-inch tape (tape size refers to
tape width) running at 100 inches per second. At that rate a reel
of tape three feet in diameter held about fifteen minutes of video.
Crosby continued to fund the research, driven not only by a sense
of commercial possibilities for videotape, but reportedly also by
his wish to record television programs so that he could play golf
without being restricted to live performances. Two years later RCA
engineers developed a recorder which reproduced not only black-and-white
but color pictures. However, tape ran past the heads at a blinding
360 inches per second, which is 20 miles per hour. Neither machine
produced pictures of adequate quality for broadcast. It simply was
not possible to produce a stable picture at such a high tape speed.
this same period, Ampex, a small electronics firm in California
was building a machine on a different principle, spinning the recording
head. They succeeded in 1956 with a recorder the size of two washing
machines. Four video heads rotated at 14,400 revolutions per minute,
each head recording one part of a tape that was two inches wide.
One of the engineers on the project, Ray M. Dolby, later became
famous for his tape noise reduction process.
quality of Ampex recordings was such an improvement over fuzzy kinescope
images that broadcasters who saw the first demonstration, presented
at a national convention, actually jumped to their feet to cheer
and applaud. The television industry responded so enthusiastically
that Ampex could not produce machines fast enough. It was the true
beginning of the video age.
Coast television stations could now, without sacrificing picture
quality, delay live East Coast news and entertainment broadcasts
for three hours until evening prime time, when most viewers reached
their homes after work. By 1958 the networks were recording video
in color and by 1960 a recorder was synchronized with television
studio electronics for the familiar film editing techniques of the
"dissolve" and "wipe."
"two-inch" reel-to-reel Ampex machines survived for a generation
before they were replaced by more compact and efficient "one-inch"
reel-to-reel machines and "three-quarter-inch" cassette machines.
By 1990 most of the bigger recorders had been retired.
American companies were manufacturing two-inch, four-head, quadruplex
scan machines, Japanese engineers were building the prototype of
a helical scan machine that employed a single spinning head. Toshiba
introduced the first helical scan VTR machine in 1959. JVC soon
followed. The picture quality produced by these machines would remain
inferior to "quad" machines for another ten years, unsuitable for
the broadcast industry. But the smaller, more "user-friendly" helical
scan machines, costing a fraction of the price of larger machines,
quickly dominated the industrial and educational markets.
1972 Sony introduced the "Port-a-pak" black-and-white video recorder,
weighing less than 10 pounds. The tape had to be threaded by hand,
but the "Port-a-Pak" was an important step on the way to electronic
news gathering, known in the television industry as ENG. The next
big step, Sony's U-matic three-quarter inch tape machine which played
tape cassettes, eliminated physical handling of tape. CBS-TV News
sent a camera team equipped with an Ikegami video camera and a U-Matic
tape recorder to cover President Richard Nixon's trip to Moscow.
News stories were soon being microwaved back to stations for taping
or live feeds. Prior to these developments the visual portion of
news broadcasts had been produced on film. Videotape was the far
superior medium for news. It needed no developing time, was reusable,
and was more suited to the television's sense of immediacy. With
the coming of videotape, television news editors replaced razor
blades with electronic editing devices.
broadcasting, educational and industrial markets in hand, Japanese
video companies turned their attention to the potentially vast home
market. Hobbyists had already shown the way. With slightly modified
portable reel-to-reel machines, they were taping television programs
at home to play again later.
whose research was led by Nobutoshi Kihara, had considered the home
market from the start. Recognizing that not only television stations
but viewers ought to be able to time-shift programs, Sony president
Akio Morita said, "People do not have to read a book when it's delivered.
Why should they have to see a TV program when it's delivered?" Sony
introduced its half-inch Betamax machine in 1975. A year later rival
Japanese companies, led by JVC, brought out VHS machines, a format
incompatible with Betamax. VHS gradually captured the home market.
People at home could simply and inexpensively record television
programs, and could buy or rent tapes. At last it was possible to
go to the movies without leaving home.
Tape renting began when businessman Andre Blay made a deal to buy
cassette production rights to fifty Twentieth Century-Fox movies.
Blay discovered that few customers wanted to buy his tapes, but
everyone wanted to rent them.
The motion picture industry considered the videodisc a better way
to bring a movie into the home, pointing out its sharper picture
image, stereo sound, lower cost, and copy protection. However, the
public wanted recording capability, not so much to copy rented films
illegally as to record movies and television programs off the air
for later playback. Videodisc players could not match the flexibility
of videocassette recorders for time-shifting. In the battle over
competing disc and tape formats, VHS tapes emerged the clear winner.
The simplicity, flexibility, low cost, and high quality of tape
technology created new worlds of visual production. In the final
decade of the twentieth century, one hundred years after motion
pictures were invented, millions of users could "make a movie."
Video cameras found their way into schools as learning tools. The
high-school library is now often referred to as "the media center,"
and the video yearbook has joined the printed version. Even in elementary
schools, curious fingers are pushing camera buttons.
has also introduced specific changes at a very different level,
expanding the production community in the professional arena. It
is possible to produce a motion picture of technically acceptable
quality at modest cost. The phrase desktop video has become part
of our language, often in relation to to desktop publishing.
has had wide impact everywhere on earth, including remote villages,
where inexpensive tapes bring information and entertainment. A truck
carrying a videotape player, a television set, and a portable generator
is not an uncommon sight in many parts of the world. Peoples living
as far from urban centers as the Kayapo of the Brazil rain forest
and the Inuit of northern Canada have been introduced to video,
and have themselves produced tapes to argue for political justice
and to record their cultural heritage.
Several Third World governments have actively promoted videotape
programs for adult education. For example, the Village Video Network
in several countries provides an exchange for tapes on such subjects
as farming, nutrition, and population control. International groups
have given some villages video cameras and training to produce their
own films, which are later shown to other villages.
result of video diffusion has been a widening of video journalism
capability. The taping of the Rodney King beating was just one example
of how ordinary citizens are making a difference not only in news
coverage but in the course of events. The potential for a "video
vigilantism" by "visualantes" has not gone unnoticed, with its effects
not only on journalism but on law enforcement itself.
Far less significant uses of videotape technology have also developed.
Replacing the traditional matchmaker, for example, is the video
dating club. Participants tell a video camera of their interests,
their virtues, and the type of person they would like to meet. They
look at other videotapes and their videotape is shown to prospects.
social and legal problems are also directly related to the easy
use of this technology. Video piracy is rampant. A vast underground
network feeds millions of illegal copies of videotape movies throughout
the world. The national film industries of a number of countries
have been battered both by the pirating of their own films and by
the influx of cheap illegal copies of Western films.
of these issues may be resolved with the devleopment of still newer
technologies. For both the video and computer industries, the future
of information storage and retrieval may lie not with tape but with
such optical media as CD-ROM and CD-I, which offer the advantages
of high density, random access and no physical contact between the
storage medium and the pickup device. As with the earlier videotape
"revolution," the television and film industries are now shifting
their investments and altering their industrial practices to deal
with the newer, digitally-based devices. The results of these changes
for consumers, educators, and journalists are not easily predicted,
yet there is no question but that all these groups will experience
alteration in media use akin to that caused by the introduction
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Video Editing; Video